British government to seek several changes to operation of Northern Ireland protocol

Ministers to outline new proposals on trade between Britain and the North at Westminster

The British government is expected to seek several changes to how the Northern Ireland protocol works when it sets out new proposals on Wednesday for imports to the North from the rest of the UK.

It is expected that in its proposals the British government will seek a “trusted trader” scheme, a freezing of current arrangements, and for all British-made goods destined for Northern Ireland-only to be admitted without the requirement for checks.

The proposals, expected to be made by British ministers at Westminster on Wednesday, would represent significant changes to the operation of the protocol and are unlikely to be accepted by the EU, although Brussels is unlikely to dismiss the British initiative out of hand.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin discussed the protocol, a part of the UK-EU Brexit withdrawal deal that gives the North a special trading status and has caused significant unrest among unionists, with British prime minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday in a telephone call.

Downing Street said Mr Johnson told the Taoiseach that the EU must show “pragmatism” in dealing with problems related to the protocol.

“The prime minister emphasised that the way the protocol is currently operating is causing significant disruption for the people in Northern Ireland,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.

Government Buildings confirmed the two leaders discussed the protocol and said that the Taoiseach told the prime minister that the British statements on the protocol to be made at Westminster on Wednesday would be “carefully considered”.

US intervention

Ahead of the British announcement, the US state department urged the UK and the EU to negotiate within “the existing mechanisms” of the Brexit agreement.

British Brexit minister David Frost and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis will make parallel statements outlining the new proposals in the House of Lords and the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon.

The announcement will come just hours after Dominic Cummings, the architect of the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, said he was not certain that Brexit was a good idea although, on balance, he still supported it.

The Taoiseach was due to meet Mr Johnson in London on Tuesday but the meeting was cancelled after Mr Johnson was forced to go into self-isolation after being identified as a contact of a Covid-19 case.

The Government said the Taoiseach also raised during the call “serious concerns at the British government’s proposals” to offer a blanket amnesty to soldiers and paramilitaries for Troubles-related offences.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent